Final position: 17th (Wins: 6 Losses: 16 Percentage: 76)
Where do you start with the Suns? They have been flattering to deceive for the past couple of years, partly through injury issues and partly through abysmal on-field performances. This has been compounded with their off-field issues. This year was no different.
The Suns started the season poorly, with losses to their neighbours Brisbane and their fellow expansion sibling GWS. They reversed their fortunes with an 86-point drubbing of Hawthorn and a gritty win over the Blues. Their season quickly became a yo-yo journey, and they were unable to maintain any sort of consistency. In the background, talk raged on about Gary Ablett’s future and Rodney Eade’s job security. The background noise seemingly created enough on-field distraction for some very abysmal performances against supposedly lower-ranked opposition.
Their season highlight is easily their two wins over Hawthorn, who they have never beaten previously. The lowlight of their season was their spineless capitulation to Brisbane, Essendon and Port in the final three rounds.
What they did well
Young brigade showed promise
The likes of Aaron Hall, Jack Martin and Adam Saad showed what they are capable of when they get going, and this should give the Suns a faint glimmer of hope for the future. Hall averaged 25.6 disposals a game and kicked 12 goals for the season. Saad demonstrated why he was touted as a future star, by providing the Suns with the pace and line-breaking run that they seemed to be sorely missing.
Saad and Hall together gained almost 900 metres per game on average. Jack Martin came third on the goal-kicking ladder with 24 goals, and also averaged 19 disposals and 6 marks a game. If he fixes up his goal-kicking accuracy, he will be a threat with his pace and versatility around the ground.
The signing of Jarrod Witts
Witts’ career seemed to be at crossroads when he was considered surplus to requirements at Collingwood. However, his trade to the Suns has given him a new lease of life, and he has repaid the faith in spades. The big ruckman averaged 38 hitouts per game this season, and has also collected 13.3 disposals, four tackles and four clearances per game in a breakout season. Witts came up trumps against several highly rated opponents, and was crucial in providing the midfield with first use of the ball.
Keeping Steven May
Steven May was elevated to co-captain this season, and did justice to the faith shown in him by the club, providing some resolute leadership in the backline as well as some good clips for the highlight reel. With talks raging on about his contract and whether he would move to a Victorian club at the end of the season, May went about his business quietly, becoming a rock in defence with good intercept marking and ball awareness. May took seven marks a game and seven intercept possessions per game, and it is scary to think how much worse they would have been without him in the backline. May also repaid the faith the Suns showed in him by signing a two-year deal with the club.
What they did not do well
The Gary Ablett saga
Gary Ablett is one of the game’s greatest players without doubt, and it is no surprise that the Suns want to see him finish his career with them. After all, a multi-million-dollar marquee signing of that profile does not walk through your doors every day. The ongoing debate on whether he will stay at the Suns or go to Geelong started as a whisper, and has gained some serious legs through the season.
Ablett has not helped the cause by missing out on games on a regular basis. He came under the blowtorch for not providing the leadership expected from him, although he was the Suns’ best by a country mile. Whatever the outcome of this saga, the effects of it on the Suns is telling. The fact that he won their Best and Fairest despite playing only 14 games is also a worry for the Suns, and a startling indicator of their overall lack of elite quality players in the side.
Rodney Eade’s sacking
Like Guy McKenna, Eade felt the wrath of the Suns board, who sacked the veteran coach with three games to go. The decision was baffling, and its timing, even more so. Clearly, the issues at the Gold Coast Suns are more deep-seated than just the coaching style, and no matter who they hire as a coach, it will be impossible to win on the field without improving the culture off the field. Their lack of leadership on-field is evident (although their co-captains have given it their best). Historically, their recruitment has not been great, and it is hard to see a club that had Karmichael Hunt as their second-best recruit dig themselves out of this in a hurry.
What they need
While the Suns have some good young talent, they need some wise heads and experienced shoulders to carry the load and lead the kids. Their lack of tackling pressure and contested ball and clearances is hurting them, as is their delivery into the forward line. If Ablett does leave or retire, the hole becomes even bigger to fill, and I don’t see the likes of David Swallow or Matt Rosa being the answer. The Suns desperately need to recruit some quality experience into their side, while also keeping an eye on the future in the upcoming draft. The road on their rebuilding journey is evidently going to be a long one, but some good leadership will alleviate some of this pressure.
Final word and season rating
Despite a few good wins against some quality sides, it is hard to describe the Suns’ season as anything other than a failure. The wins only serve to mask the deep-seated issues with the culture and structure of the club. Their lack of endeavour on the field and the weak culture off the field have made it a tough couple of years for the Suns’ faithful, and this is set to continue at least in the short term.
How do you rate the Suns’ season in 2017? Were they on the mark with where you thought they would finish, or have they failed to capitalise? Comment below.
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